Toi.Toi.Musik has been deeply involved into the most respected dance floors around the world for 10 years now. Confused about what pretentious dance floor means? Make a list that includes Fabric London, Rex Club Paris, Hoppetosse / Club der Visionaere Berlin, Fuse Brussels, Closer Kiev, Club Guesthouse Bucharest, Supermarket Zurich, Mutabor Moscow, Red58 Barcelona, Fold Warehouse London and you’ll figure it out by yourself. With a roster focused more on the artist material than the number of likes and followers each DJ has, Toi.Toi has slowly become a synonym with avangarde 4/4 music, staying true to what Perlon & Playhouse sound means but daring to explore farther. And much of the Toi.Toi unique feel comes from its founder, Isis Salvaterra.
With Latin flavoured blood inherited from two continents, as she is born in Brazil to a family with Italian origins, Isis is a child of the modern society we’re living in. She moved to London when she was only 15, then studied Psychology, Sociology and Third World Politics & Development, aiming for a diplomatic career for the British government. At least this was the initial plan, as the Universe had different plans for her. And these plans revolve around the dance floor and the passion for house & techno.
Surprising (or maybe not), after a 20 years love affair with London and its thriving electronic underground, Isis moved to Bucharest to work closely with Club Guesthouse and with the Romanian DJs who are part of Toi.Toi. So, we were dead curious to document her take on the Romanian scene, with the good and bad: from a professional perspective, from a clubhead perspective, from a psychologist and sociologist perspective. I met Isis at her office, located right in the middle of the newly opened Sunrise Hub, where we had the classic 5 o’ clock tea and a pleasant conversation that extended to a 2 hours talk about Bucharest, the introspective human nature of Romanians, the communist inheritance and the Latin way of doing things here. Most of the talk was off the record, but it revealed a person who appreciates our underground more than many of us will ever do, a person who passionately talks about DJing as an artistic act, a person who digs deep into this phenomenon to reveal its most beautiful hidden gems. So sit back and enjoy an adopted Westerner’s take on Romania’s house & techno scene.
Do you recall your first ever contact with the Romanian clubbing scene?
With Romanian artists yes but not necessarily the Romanian scene, which came years later at Sunwaves. For always being linked to Perlon and consequently the arpiar guys, my interaction with them via Fabric London. I used to book Pedro many, many years ago for the Lo*kee parties in London, and for as far as I can remember Rhadoo was one artist I have always admired / followed more closely, such is his uniqueness and style of mixing, always blew my mind and never stopped to since. I guess the bigger part of my connection comes from this. Now my first time here: I went to Club der Visionaere Mayday before coming to SW for the first time, so you can imagine the tiredness. I walked into SW, and instantly when I walked into the [a:rpia:r] tent I felt this enormous amount of energy. I am South American, I was raised surrounded by black women (my babysitters) who had a certain magic, so walking into Sunwaves and feeling this same magic I could not pin down its source… For me, I know where my magic comes from, but we’re in an Eastern European country, so I was really curious because, yes, you have Latin origins that brings this warmth, but it was not that… Later on, I found out that there is a certain magic from the mountains. After that, I started to come on a regular basis to Romania, until eventually I moved here. For me, Romania has the best of my both worlds: the Latin rooted flare but with a certain understatement like, more European. I quite frankly cannot stand how loud latinos are, even though I come from it.
So, from there I never missed a Sunwaves and I started representing Romanian artists, with Herodot as the first one, five years ago. Managing Romanian artists is very different than any other DJs in an European or global setting. One example for instance is that Romanians are used to doing really long sets (which I love) but when you go out there, in UK for example, to 2 – 3 hrs sets, one needs to adapt and managing that transition with them is a very interesting process to do. For some countries is not a choice to go for longer, as license implications don’t allow for the 8hrs sets even if the promoter wants to, so what ends up happening is that the party stops but an afterparty follows. This means the room, soundsystem, size of floor… practically everything changes and it enables the artist to play again but in a different way. There are its benefits, too but it is in essence different schematics to work on.
Speaking of Sunwaves: what does this festival do different that make it so inspiring?
Sunwaves is a constant and ongoing improvement, and a very organic one, as well. I thrive on organic (and real) growth. What I love about Sunwaves is that it is the only festival in the world where you see no bouncers on the floor, where you don’t really lose your friends forever over it being a mission It feels utterly intimate, be it on the floor, in the booth. And for the artists, the crowd is right there in your face, so nice! Also, what I love about Romania is the level of freedom one can keep on going endlessly. In fact, huge part of my decision of moving here comes from that, even though I am still between London and here, it was certainly refreshing to have that that level of freedom while partying. I don’t think I feel so home in any other festival outside of the UK (Houghton) as I do at SW and this seemed like such a natural course since my first time there.
A truly diverse artists roster at ToiToi, with Herodot, Dan Andrei and Dubtil representing Romania. How do they fit, sound – wise, in your agency? They’re pretty different in terms of the music they play.
I absolutely adore the aesthetic of the Romanian sound. Right now we have Herodot and Dubtil in the Toi Toi’s roster, others such as Dan Andrei (latest) I work in some other regions of the world. I also take many of them a lot to all my Toi Toi Events around the world.
I like diversity and I think this is what music should be about. In terms of fitting musically to the Toi Toi Ethos, you have the Perlon origins, the Romanians…. And in between, with Nicolas Lutz, Craig Richards, the now so called ‘diggers’ (in lack of a better title), then as event programme I have gone from Move D to Ben UFO to Mr G to Steve O’Sullivan etc. I am a Perlon girl at heart, so minimal (techno) is the source of my soul but my school was at Fabric London so, diversity in itself. Currently, there is no other country in the world that plays my music more than Romania, so I felt like coming here. There is a stigma attached to the “Romanian sound”, which is monotone, boring and flat and I freakin’ love to show the world that Romania’s electronic scene is anything but flat so I take much pride not only in having Romanians as part of the Toi Toi roster but beyond. Artists here that are capable of stepping out of their box and for that I take pride in help them do so in the most positive way, there are so many talents here which are mistakenly taken as “boring and flat”. By that I mean the “rominimal” reputation the world has taken on “Romanians”, I cannot blame them for that, there are points in the history of the aesthetic of this sound that it was like that, hence the reputation but I would like to show that certain artists cannot be assumed to be just that, that even though there is a Romanian aesthetic that the music is driving, full bodied (production wise), very diverse and placed in a beautiful and concise structure. Anyone that has seen Rhadoo, Dubtil and Dan Andrei lately will know what I mean.
Your take on the Romanian electronic scene. How did you feel it, as objective as you can be, as a diplomat, as a psychologist with a degree, as a person who studied sociology, politics and ethnomusicology…
Indeed, being someone that has spent a life questioning this (I migrated to the UK as a kid) led me to studying this at an academic level simply because I had too many questions I wanted answered.
In my opinion, there are many barriers to be broken in Romania, it is a very young country and one that comes from a communist regime. Inevitably, behaviour patterns are inherited from it still. It is valid to say that most of the time people act in the way they do because it is what they have been taught. It is not their fault necessarily, and this is what I would like to change. I would like to give people opportunities for them to see they can be the change they want to see, that they can open up and that it is ok for them to say “I don’t know”. That is the only way one learns and grows. It sounds ideological (and it is) and somewhat utopian but it is possible. Dance Music enables this discourse at so many levels but I feel people are not making use of it as they could, again, I might be wrong, but that is what my observation and participation tells me.
I have the biggest admiration for Guesthouse for doing exactly the opposite of that. I am no Romanian and yet they received me with open arms, be it when they took me on to work with them but also before, when I was always flying in to be at the club. I imagine it takes a level of daring to make this move for them, I also imagine they received questions like: why not a Romanian?! I must also say that the crowd received me so amazingly and positively and for that I am very thankful. People here have this positive energy to them even though at times Romanians themselves tell me that people tend to focus on the negative first.
I have also recently joined the Sunrise Hub. Herodot and Sunrise came together to build a bunch of state of the art music studios. The Toi.Toi agency’s office is there and I am particularly excited about this interaction and exchange between producers, visual artists, agents, sound engineers, musicians and so on. So far in Romania for me, it all feels like one big family and for that I am grateful too. As a form of gratitude and integration from my part, I want to learn how to speak Romanian, I feel it is the minimum I can do, let’s see how far I can go with it. :)
We don’t have a strong underground culture history, compared to the Western Europe, with more than 4 decades of clubbing. Have you felt this lack of background somehow, as you’re coming from a scene with an important heritage in terms of electronic music?
Dance Music here is not necessarily seen as art to many, including artists. They see “artist” as an exaggerated term when it shouldn’t be. They see musicians as being superior than DJs or producers when, in essence, what they are really is just different forms of artistic expressions, “the art of DJing”, “the art of music making” , the art of playing an instrument”. Equally so, going out to a club is not seen as cultural, it is seeing as pure hedonism and entertainment, and this is embedded in the wider society and passed on to all, including those that are going to these parties, it is hard to detach from this when, as you said, there is no much background, its a very young country in those terms but we can always introduce slowly to those interested in taking it in this approach. The way I see it when I go into a club: I don’t treat it any differently than Jazz or Classical Music.
We, Western Europeans, have left nationalism in the 20th Century, here it is still very present, quite understandably. Many times at the club I get told: “this international artist is playing and I like it but somehow I wish it was a Romanian playing, it excites me more”. You see, music and art should have no nationality or boundaries but respected for what it is wherever it is from.
Did you have the feeling of a segregation between the dance floor and the backstage when going to a party in Romania?
This was one aspect I found quite surprising here and I have just one thing to say: dance music is about us on the dancefloor! Hierarchies are created somewhat on the status of being backstage or not. Yet, one is not more important than the other because of where one is located, we should be equal but not just on paper, we need to start acting as such. Remember kids: feel proud for being on the floor because all that we do is as much (if not more) about you than it is about the rest. A great example is the Get Perlonized parties, you will find Sammy Dee, Zip, Margaret… all artists on the floor, because primarily that is what we are: all clubbers at heart. Some people felt surprised at that at Guesthouse, but for me it was so cute to see these youngsters excited about being and dancing with them.
Do Berlin and London scene have something to learn from Romania’s underground?
I think we all have something to learn with each other, no country is perfect, it is like a mix that is sync’d, it’s too perfect, you need that wobbling noise from the vinyl to correct to so the idea of perfection is celebrating imperfections, how we mix all of it together and thrive celebrating diversity.
Working here, in Romania, brought you in contact also with state institutions and private companies. Did you find it hard to adapt to a totally different way of doing things?
Romania is a very bureaucratic country, very similarly to Latin American countries, or southern hemisphere / hot countries. The main reason for this is, in many instances, not doing things according to what is meant to be “the right way”. This has its benefits but it also has its downfalls.
Lack of structure or lack of organization generates a whole load of mess and confusion, so much that sometimes, one needs to work in “the wrong way” to make sense of what then became “the norm”. I can adapt to this due to the fact of my understanding about such structures (sociology, psy and politics) but that triggers in me the thirst to change it and make it better, more structured and organized. Not sure how much of it I can achieve but I can only try.
What drives you doing the work you do right now?
Music is the most powerful tool to humanity! Humanity is driving me to do the things I do right now. All major changes in the world, one way or another, are rooted in musical movements. I believe that, if I take every major capital or every country in the world and drop this beautiful thing we do, I doubt a person would be nasty to another just after having a life changing experience on the dancefloor. My aim in studying what I did was to help people as a Diplomat. Music grabbed me but I feel I do exactly what I set out to do, but in a niche of a society in a global scale be it through events, booking artists, exchanging with any type of people, there is always something to learn, to give or receive. Music is thrive. No conflict. Dance Music is the most interactive form of music, it enables that even more so than other forms. Imagine that you go to a concert of jazz, rock, whatever, there you can only be a receptor, whereas what we do, each of us on that dancefloor may define the direction that set is gonna go, it’s a conversation, a dialogue. One is dependent on the other. The crowd depends on the artist, the artist depends on the crowd. We can connect the world through the dance floor and I would like that binding to happen based on the universal language which is music, not geographic boundaries.